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Politics chat: Abortion developments and the Republican Party


It's been a big week for abortion news in the U.S. First, a candidate who favors abortion rights won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Janet Protasiewicz.


JANET PROTASIEWICZ: Our state is taking a step forward to a better and brighter future where our rights and freedoms will be protected.

RASCOE: And then two federal judges handed down contradictory rulings on the abortion drug mifepristone. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here with us to sort it all out. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's take the court rulings first. They came on Friday evening. A Texas judge ordered the FDA essentially to take an abortion pill off the market. A judge in Washington told the agency to keep it available. So what are we supposed to make of all of this?

LIASSON: I think we just have to wait for the Supreme Court to resolve this. Mifepristone is a common abortion pill. It's taken in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. More than half of all abortions in the United States now are done using medication as opposed to surgery. And there's a two-drug combination - mifepristone is one of them - that's used for almost every single one of these medical abortions. And what's really interesting for abortion politics is that the plaintiffs in this suit, anti-abortion groups, are not saying that the regulation of mifepristone should be up to the states, which is what the Dobbs decision did when it overturned Roe. They're actually asking for what would be, in effect, a national ban on this drug. They are arguing that the FDA, 23 years ago, made the wrong decision when it said this drug was safe. And that's why this case has such potentially far-reaching implications because the Supreme Court is now going to have to decide whether a federal judge can reassess the judgment of a federal agency, in this case the FDA.

RASCOE: Now, what about that election in Wisconsin? Because, you know, whether people agree with it or not, some states let people elect justices to their highest courts directly. Wisconsin is one of them. And Janet Protasiewicz was quite open about her support for abortion rights.

LIASSON: That's right. Now the state Supreme Court in Wisconsin has a majority of liberal judges. What's really interesting to me politically is the Republican reaction to this loss. From The Wall Street Journal editorial page and many other voices are saying, Republicans, can't you read the handwriting on the wall? You keep restricting abortion laws, and voters keep rejecting you in red states like Kansas and now a battleground state like Wisconsin. Why don't you try to find some middle ground on abortion?

The problem is that the anti-abortion forces won the legal battle when they overturned Roe, but they didn't win the political battle, the battle for public opinion. So Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature had the opportunity to find some middle ground, which could be something like Roe, keeping abortion mostly legal with restrictions, or mostly illegal with exceptions. But instead, they left an 1849 law on the books banning all abortions. That gave Janet Protasiewicz a huge target, and she hit it. She won by 11 points.

RASCOE: So what are the lessons here for the GOP? Like, are other red states going to back off from their hard line on abortion restrictions?

LIASSON: It doesn't look like that right now. Republicans who control most red state legislatures are moving forward with more restrictive abortion laws. Florida, for instance, has a 15-week ban. But now the Florida state legislature is about to pass a six-week ban. Six weeks is earlier than most women even know that they're pregnant. And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has his eye firmly fixed on the people who vote in Republican presidential primaries, intends to sign that law.

RASCOE: So that's DeSantis. But what about the leading Republican presidential contender, Donald Trump? I mean, he has had concerns about Republicans' approach to abortions, right?

LIASSON: That's right. And what's really interesting, back in January, he had pretty much the same perspective as The Wall Street Journal editorial page on abortion restrictions and what they would mean for Republican candidates. He blamed the Republican Party's poor showing in the 2022 elections on the fact that Roe was gone. And on Truth Social, which is his social media platform, he posted this tweet. He said, it was the abortion issue poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters. And he went on to diss his own evangelical supporters by saying, quote, "The people that pushed so hard for decades against abortion got their wish from the Supreme Court and just plain disappeared, not to be seen again." I would say some of those evangelical activists are saying, thank you, President Trump, for the 7-2 majority that overturned Roe. Now can we please move on without you? So that's just an example of how abortion politics are dividing the Republican Party.

RASCOE: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thank you so much for joining us.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 11, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
This story incorrectly describes the verdict that overturned Roe v. Wade as a 7-2 majority. In fact, it was a 5-4 majority.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.

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